As if Donald Trump’s Twitter threats to North Korea weren't unsettling enough, a new report in the New York Times alleges there exists a conflict between the White House and Pentagon over how to handle rising tensions between the US and North Korea.
According to officials who spoke to the New York Times, the White House has become irritated at the Pentagon for being reluctant to give the White House military options on how to address Kim Jong-un’s regime. Giving Trump “too many options” might “increase the odds that he will act," the report states.
The Times continued:
The national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, believes that for Mr. Trump’s warnings to North Korea to be credible, the United States must have well-developed military plans, according to those officials.
But the Pentagon, they say, is worried that the White House is moving too hastily toward military action on the Korean Peninsula that could escalate catastrophically. Giving the president too many options, the officials said, could increase the odds that he will act.
While the Times' sources are anonymous, the article references a move the White House made this week which exemplifies the alleged Pentagon-White House conflict, which was to forgo nominating Victor D. Cha as ambassador to South Korea, as reported by the Washington Post. The nomination was allegedly dropped because Cha raised concerns over the possibility of a preventative strike, known as the “bloody nose strategy." According to the Wall Street Journal, the "bloody nose strategy" would be a plan in which the U.S. would “react to some nuclear or missile test with a targeted strike against a North Korean facility to bloody Pyongyang’s nose and illustrate the high price the regime could pay for its behavior.”
Indeed this is aligned with Cha's perspective. Cha wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post that giving North Korea a “bloody nose” would likely kill “tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Americans.”
“Some have argued the risks are still worth taking because it’s better that people die “over there” than “over here,” On any given day, there are 230,000 Americans in South Korea and 90,000 or so in Japan. Given that an evacuation of so many citizens would be virtually impossible under a rain of North Korean artillery and missiles (potentially laced with biochemical weapons), these Americans would most likely have to hunker down until the war was over.”
An alternative plan, Cha suggested, would be to pressure North Korea to remove their nuclear weapons, but this plan would require more strategic, diplomatic steps from the U.S.—such as strengthen its alliance with Japan and South Korea and the coalition of U.N. member states.
“This strategy is likely to deliver the same potential benefits as a limited strike, along with other advantages, without the self-destructive costs,” Cha wrote.
According to the New York Times, the alleged conflict between Pentagon officials and White House officials dates back to last summer. However, Pentagon press secretary told the Times that reports of a delay in providing the White House with military options were “false.”
Fear and the ongoing threat of preventative attack linger in some parts of Asia though. On Jan. 22, Tokyo conducted its first missile drill since World War Two.